White Fetish

by Janani Balasubramanian, ’12


A failing of the word ‘activism’ is its designation of certain activities as political engagement and the rest of our lives as some other floaty and apolitical space.  In reality, we are always enacting and interacting with the structures of power and social positions each of us inhabit.  My friend Alok and I were at a queer conference this weekend in Atlanta to facilitate the same workshop that we’re presenting tonight: ‘Because You’re Brown Honey Gurl!: A Dialogue about Race and Desire’.  Our intention was to bring to bear a conversation on spaces where desire, sex, and romance circulate as political spaces.  The project of queer liberation isn’t limited to our policy engagements or our organizing work — it is also about considering how we desire and are desired in white supremacist realities.

We use the term ‘sexual racism’ to describe the ways that racism and racist traumas inflect our romantic and sexual relations.  Through processes of colonialism, bodies of color have taken on specific meaning in relation to sexuality.  Some of us are characterized as hyper-sexualized objects.  Consider the multiple and abusive meanings attached to women of color’s bodies. Others of us are regarded as under-sexed and repressed — the figure of the model minority comes to mind here.  Many of us have histories of occupation and/or slavery through which our bodies became understood in particular ways to enable our peoples’ rape and exploitation as tools of cultural/economic power at the hands of colonizers.

Our workshop is grounded in this history, and attempts to move past the statement I’ve been stuck on so often: ‘our desires are racialized’. Our desires are certainly racialized, because our bodies and the ways they are understood are racialized.  But what do we do about this?  How can we build tools for liberating our desires?  How do people of color negotiate our attraction to white people or other people of color, and vice versa?  Some of us have chosen romantic separatism as a result of racist trauma, personal-political enactments, or both. Others of us find ourselves fetishized and mobilize that fetish as a site of power and subversion. Still others find ourselves falling always for white folks, wishing we could have more agency in the process, be more intentional about who we desire and how. White supremacy extends to economies of beauty also, after all — that is, white people are already at the apex of beauty.  How can we dismantle this paradigm?

We begin the workshop with art: performances of two spoken word pieces on the mental gymnastics of anti-racist queer people of color attempting to politicize our desires. We continue with collective storytelling, and challenge ourselves and each other to explore the difficult questions. Into what kind of relationships are we willing to extend our politics?  What does it mean for each of us to politicize our desires?  Is it possible to enact allyship in the bedroom or is intimacy designed to bring out white supremacy?  What are the boundaries we are each always negotiating?  How do we desire in ways that are both authentic and nourishing to our psyches and bodies?

The workshop will be held today (Monday 1/28) at 8pm in the LGBT-CRC (2nd floor of the Firetruck House).  This is an accessible space.


Janani is a South Asian electron spinning around the Bay Area making art and scholarship. They like thinking about apocalypse, decolonizing the food system, and making space for quantum queers everywhere. You can read some of their poetry at queerdarkenergy.posterous.com.  They’re also assistant editor over at blackgirldangerous.org.

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2 thoughts on “White Fetish

  1. why was the event titled “white fetish” and not racial fetish in general?

    • ABVM says:

      because we felt that the topic of racial fetish was too broad for one discussion session and wanted to focus on a particular type of racialized desire for this conversation. looking forward to more conversation on campus about all racialized desire, though!

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